Love and Olive Oil

Cupcake Tips & Tools

I often get asked how I decorate my cupcakes. So I figured a post dedicated to the ‘how’ of it all was in order. However, to be honest, I don’t think it is something that can be taught. It’s a matter of practice. Get yourself a plate or silicone mat, and a vat of buttercream, and go at it. Fill your piping bag with frosting, and create swirl after swirl on the plate. When it’s full, simply scrape off the buttercream, refill your bag, and repeat. I’m serious here. You need to figure out for yourself what is comfortable as far as holding the piping bag, and become familiar with the proper pressure and motion you need to use to create that perfect buttercream swirl.

As with many things, the right tools make all the difference. You’re not going to be able to achieve a big and beautiful swirl if your piping tip is too small. No practice can help that.

The Tools for Decorating Cupcakes

A few of my favorite and most useful tools (clockwise from left):

1. Piping bag. I have a few different piping bags, but I use this 14″ professional pastry bag more than any other. It’s just the right size for frosting a dozen cupcakes, and the poly canvas is a great texture to work with (that gets softer each and every time you use it). I have two, one with a larger opening for the jumbo tips, and one with a smaller opening for more dainty decorations. You can choose to use a coupler if you like (keep in mind the jumbo tips require jumbo couplers), though for the larger tips I find it unnecessary and just more to wash (and possibly lose).

2. Piping tips. The right tip makes all the difference. These jumbo tips are perfect for cupcakes. Play around with different shapes and find the one you like best. I personally love the Closed Star Tip, demonstrated below, which I use for just about all of my cupcakes. The large round is also a favorite, especially for mini cupcakes.

3. Spatula. If I could only have one spatula for the rest of my life, this would be it. It’s a half-sized spatula from Le Creuset. The perfect size to make loading your piping bag a breeze. Not to mention it’s turquoise, and that makes me happy.

4. Flower veiner. If you want to make perfect blossoms out of fondant, gumpaste, or marzipan (as seen here or here), these silicone molds are amazing. For larger flowers, I use this Blossom set (pictured – which includes a flower cutter as well), or for smaller buds this Five Petal Press set.

5. Cupcake wrappers. Be warned. Once you see all the adorable cupcake wrappers available at Bake it Pretty, you’ll need to dedicate and entire drawer to them. It’s an obsession I tell you.

6. Sprinkles. Because sprinkles make everything better. There are lots of sprinkles available at Bake it Pretty, including the White Pearlized Jimmies pictured above.

7. Food coloring. Want pretty buttercream? These Americolor gel food colorings will give you beautifully bold colors with just a drop or two.

8. Cupcake scoop. Maybe the best $15 you’ll ever spend. This large scoop from Pampered Chef doles out the perfect (and I mean PERFECT) portion for a standard size cupcake. No more overfilled cups. Also check out the small scoop, which, coincidentally, is the perfect size for mini cupcakes.

Jumbo Closed Star Tip for Frosting Cupcakes

The Closed Star Tip, my personal favorite for frosting cupcakes. I know a lot of the pros use the jumbo round tips, but for the life of me I can never seem to get a round tip to produce anything short of a pile of poop. Sorry, but it’s true. For that reason I stick to my star tip.

How To Frosting Buttercream Cupcake Swirls

Beyond getting ahold of the right tools, you’re on your own. As I mentioned above, practice really does make (almost) perfect. But, to get you started, I thought actually seeing a swirl or two couldn’t hurt. Keep in mind I am self-trained here. This is the technique I picked up after frosting dozens and dozens of cupcakes. You may find your swirls look better when piped differently. You’ll get different results if you start the swirl in the center (more of a rose like effect rather than a towering swirl) instead of the edge. You’ll see different patterns depending on the angle at which you hold the piping bag, the pressure you put on it, and the speed at which you move. So many variables I can’t even begin to describe. Again, it’s just a matter of practicing. It’s not like having dozens of ugly practice cupcakes sitting around is a bad thing, either. :)

My swirls are far from perfect. They are often uneven, too tall, or lopsided. I haven’t yet mastered the ‘end’ or ‘tip’ of the swirl, getting that perfect point to top it all off. As it stands, these cupcakes need a topper like a flower or cherry to disguise the rough break in the buttercream. This has a lot to do with the consistency of the buttercream—meringue buttercreams will usually give you nicer ends than American buttercream. Always a work in progress!

Jumbo Piping Tips for Cupcake Decorating

And now that we’ve discussed tools and techniques, it’s time for a giveaway! As you’ve probably noticed if you clicked any of the links above, I am a huge fan of Bake it Pretty. It’s a bakers paradise, with just about everything you need to make gorgeous cupcakes, candies, and more. Lucky for you folks, Amanda has generously donated one of her very popular Best Ever Cupcake Icing Kits (so popular in fact, that they sold out before I had a chance to write this post prior to Christmas – I’ve been waiting patiently since then for the kits to be restocked). Each kit includes a 14″ professional pastry bag, four jumbo piping tips perfect for buttercream swirls of all shapes and sizes, as well as a tips & instructions card to help you get started.

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  1. Awesome giveaway!!! I love cupcakes!

  2. i’ve wondered about a better way to measure batter in to cupcake pans – Pampered Chef to the rescue once again! =) thanks!

  3. I thought about buying that kit as a gift for Christmas…even better if I am selected then I can give the gift of beautifully decorated cupcakes instead…the giveaway that keeps on giving!

  4. Cupcakes are fabulous! I’m going to have to buy one of those perfect cupcake scoops.

  5. also, tweeted!
    thanks so much!

  6. So I just found your blog a couple of weeks ago through a friend but I absolutely love it! Also, we definitely made cupcakes this past weekend, and while they were definitely scrumptious, they weren’t nearly as gorgeous as yours! Thanks for all the cupcake frosting tips :)

  7. I have never piped my cupcake icing but it would be so nice to be able to try it out! It looks so much prettier and would be nice for gift cupcakes. Ever since I heard about Sprinkle’s vegan red velvet (which I’m not going to drop $3+ on) I’ve been craving cupcakes like crazy!

  8. Thank you for the information. My daughter is getting married in August and we will be attempting cupcakes instead of a wedding cake. I’m reading anything I can about cupcakes right now.

  9. I love your site and I love Bake it pretty too !

  10. I can relate to your comment on being obsessed with cupcake wrappers. Come to think of it, I would say that I’m obsessed with cupcakes in general. I love baking these fun little treats with my granddaughters and then sharing them with others. The joy in their face says it all.

  11. I LOVE cupcakes, but I’ve never been able to ice them well.

  12. Your cupcakes are always so delicious but with or without the round tip my icing always ends up looking like a pile of poop, haha.

  13. I’d love a cupcake decorating set.

  14. What a fun idea!! Great tips — going to have to try them out myself!

  15. Your cupcake tier is enough to make me want to get married all over again just to have an appropriate setting in which to serve them! You had sent me recipes before, and I am so appreciative. Your drawing give away is so generous too. I tell everyone about this site! Ciao and good eating! Debby C.

  16. I would love one of these icing kits :D
    I hope I can still enter because I live in Australia.
    But its worth a try!

  17. I love cooking and would be grateful for a gift like this!!

  18. Loved this post! I’ve always had trouble icing cupcakes so they look pretty, hopefully be able to now

  19. I have recently become a cooking/baking fanatic. More so towards the cupcakes this passed week. I have always loved to cook and bake, here and there when I have the time, but something sparked my interest in cupcakes and now I can’t stop. My fiancee laughs at me because I’ve made several batches every night for the passed 7 days. I told him, with great vigor and excitement, about your Chai cupcakes (They sound AMAZING, and if tradition serves, I’ll probably try them tonight) and he gives a quick grin and tells me that I’m making him fat. Needless to say he still encourages me to do what I like, but he can tell you (and many others) that my decorating and presentation skills are severely lacking. Love your site, keep up the good work!

  20. Mmm cupcakes!!!

  21. THANK YOU for this post! For some reason I have stayed far away from pastry bags for ever and ever. I was convinced that it would all be difficult and time-consuming and I have always been more focused on how things taste than how things look. But your youtube video proves that this method is a gazillion times easier than what I do now (which is basically using just a knife or spoon but it always comes out ugly and it takes me like a minute to do each one)

  22. Your cupcakes look amazing and if I win the kit maybe mine will look half as good!
    I know my coworkers would love them!

  23. A week ago i found you via ‘stumble’ in firefox and I landed on your goat cheese panini, which caught my eye. Then I started to read a lot of your other posts and now I follow you on bloglovin’ as well :] I love how you decorate your cupcakes so beautifully, I envy that! I adore the cute cupcake wrappers with dots on they are so cute!!

    Oh well thank you for giving me, and everyone a shot at winning some amazing materials for cupcake creating (;

    xoxo, seph

  24. Love your blog Lindsay and hope that with practice I can make my cupcakes as fabulous as yours. You really need to start selling those yummy creations! Planning to make your banana cupcake for my husband for valentine’s day:)

  25. So adorable! I love decorating cakes but beautiful cupcakes always seem to elude me =(

  26. My sister just introduced me to your website and it looks amazing. I love to bake as well and have taken a liking to baking cupcakes – just made a pirate flag cupcake cake for a birthday party this weekend that was devils food with fudge icing and whip cream inside – yummy! I would love to win the prize to add to my trick bag!

  27. This is so incredibly awesome! I remember when I applied for a bakery job and one of my trials was frosting their cupcakes and needless to say they resembled something not so appetizing. Great post :)

  28. My New Year’s resolution is to become more comfortable with baking!

  29. just recently discovered my love for baking & decorating! your blog is so inspirational!

  30. Thank you for the giveaway! You’re so awesome!

  31. Wow, what a great giveaway! I love to bake, and I love your blog!

  32. What a fun giveaway! I would thrilled to win!

  33. Love your site and love the giveaway!

  34. I loved this post, and the video on the decorating technique! I hope I can enter the giveaway as well, I’m in Australia. :)

  35. Got the baking part down pat, but not the icing part! Seems to end up everywhere but the cupcake whenever I try. :)

  36. Wow, Great post ! I was dreaming of this kit and now it is a giveway on your site. Great.

  37. I would love some larger tips for cupcake decorating! Thank you.

  38. Thanks so much for your help! I have recently found my love for cupcakes and have found that making them look all pretty is not as easy as one would think! Can’t wait to practice this weekend!

  39. This giveaway is amazing!!!

  40. I am just now getting into baking (and in a big way). This prize would really
    kick-start me!
    Thank you,

  41. Hi! My roommate just shared your blog with me today and I’m in love with it! We’re totally going to make the chocolate chip cookie dough truffles and cupcakes this weekend… and gain 10 lbs. haha thanks for the chance to win!

  42. your cupcakes are just so adorable! i never win anything so i hope the first thing i win is the cutest cupcake kit in the world!

  43. I love cupcakes! especially when they look so pretty you almost don’t want to eat them.

  44. I adore cupcakes! I’m horrible at decorating them though- at least they taste good, right?!

  45. Nice giveaway! The kits sounds great.

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